August 19, 2017 at 8:22 PM
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who faced calls from his Yale University classmates to resign in the wake of President Trump's controversial comments about last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, defended the president Saturday and said he intends to stay in office.
"While I find it hard to believe I should have to defend myself on this, or the president, I feel compelled to let you know that the president in no way, shape or form believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways," Mnuchin, who is Jewish, said in a statement released by the Treasury Department.
His comments followed assertions by Trump last week that there was blame on "both sides" at the Charlottesville gathering organized by white supremacist groups that turned deadly and that some "fine people" participated in a march to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.
Mnuchin was among the Trump administration officials standing by Trump's side as he made those comments at Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday at an event advertised to focus on Trump's plans to spur new investments in the nation's infrastructure.
A letter signed by about 300 members of the Yale class of 1985 argued that it was Mnuchin's "moral obligation" to resign because Trump had "declared himself a sympathizer with groups whose values are antithetical to those values we consider fundamental to our sacred honor as Americans."
"We know you are better than this, and we are counting on you to do the right thing," said the open letter circulated Friday.
Mnuchin referenced the views of his Yale classmates and others in his defense of Trump on Saturday and said that "as someone who is Jewish, I believe I understand the long history of violence and hatred against the Jews (and other minorities) and circumstances that give rise to these sentiments and actions."
But Mnuchin argued that Trump's comments were misrepresented and pointed to an earlier statement in which he urged Americans to "condemn all that hate stands for."
"Our President deserves the opportunity to propose his agenda and to do so without the attempts by those who opposed him in the primaries, in the general election and beyond to distract the administration and the American people from these most important policy issues — jobs, economic growth and national security," Mnuchin said.
"As long as I am Treasury Secretary I will do the best job I can for the American people and provide the best advice I can to the President," he added.